PITTSBURGH - If the Penguins need inspiration and motivation - down 2-0 to Detroit in the Stanley Cup final - perhaps they can get it from Red Wings coach Mike Babcock.
The Penguins' world-class scoring talent was shut out in the two games in Detroit and, since his team's 3-0 loss in Game 2 on Monday night, coach Michel Therrien has worn a look that is part exasperation and part disbelief.
Heading into Game 3 tonight, in an arena where they haven't lost in more than 3 months, maybe Therrien and the Penguins should consider recent history, which suggests the final is not over, but might only be starting.
In 2003, Babcock's Anaheim Mighty Ducks were being written off after New Jersey goaltender Martin Brodeur shut them out by identical 3-0 scores, just as these Penguins have been blanked twice by Chris Osgood. New Jersey's trip to Southern California was seen as a mere formality, with the Devils expected to return home with the Stanley Cup.
Instead, the Ducks won two overtime games, and the series lasted the maximum seven games. The Devils won the Cup, but only by winning all four home games in the Meadowlands.
"We have a lot of guys who are capable of scoring and making things happen," Penguins star Sidney Crosby said yesterday. "And our confidence is fine. We all believe in each other."
"Their guys are going to say, 'OK, we're a good team at home. We're 8-0 at home. Nothing's happening in this series as long as we hold serve, that kind of thing,' '' Babcock said. "That's exactly what happened [in 2003]. Suddenly the series was the best-of- three."
Despite how badly they played in Motown, the Penguins are convinced that one goal, one opportune power play, one break, might be all the lift they need. They've won their last 16 home games, and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury hasn't lost at home in more than 6 months, 18-0 since a Thanksgiving eve loss to New Jersey.
Those numbers don't conceal the scoreless streak that is approaching 136 minutes, the Penguins' inability to generate any speed or scoring chances through a neutral zone that must seem like it's clogged with a dozen Red Wings, or the fact that 30 of the 31 teams that previously won the first two home games went on to win the Cup.
But unless Crosby or Evgeni Malkin, who has just one shot on goal in the two games, start finding the net, all the breaks and bad bounces won't matter.
"It's tough to generate offense," Therrien said. "And you need to score dirty goals. The tic-tac-toe play, sometimes it's going to happen. But most of the time you're going to put the puck at the net, and you're going to crash the net." *